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‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ floods with narrative, floats on CGI

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DECEMBER 21, 2022

Grade: 2.5/5 

To put it simply, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is double the water, double the ecological themes and, of course, double the blue alien nudity. Nonetheless, the ancient franchise stirs to life once more to deliver a CGI spectacle that can’t quite double up on narrative substance. 

The sequel follows a Sully family on the run from once-slain Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who has been reincarnated in a new Avatar body. Alongside Avatar-raised human child Spider (Jack Champion), the Sullys and their four kids adventure across the ocean to seek refuge with the unfamiliar water tribes of Pandora. Spell-binding, spectacular, shaky, Sully-packed and ultimately splintered, “The Way of Water” plunges its audience into a three-hour runtime many will find it easy to drown in. 

Undeniably, “The Way of Water” is a computer generated feast for the eyes. The blue alien planet audiences fell in love with 13 years ago blossoms on screen, more vibrant than ever as a backdrop to the hardened Sully family. Deliciously indulgent, the new water tribe setting ensured “The Way of the Water” took full advantage of its rumored $250 million budget. Almost every shot pulses with intricate moments of bioluminescent alien life — small spinning fluorescent jellyfish, reactive coral, sentient sea creatures and indelibly rendered water graphics. While the graphics may be nowhere near as jaw-dropping as the original film’s pioneering CGI was in 2009, it’s yet again Cameron’s mastery of the details that cements “The Way of Water” as one of the most tangible fantasy depictions of the past decade. 

The world of Pandora may be more alive than ever, but when it comes to the film’s vast ensemble of characters, it’s hard not to be distracted from the vibrant landscape by its tangibly inferior narrative. For the most part, “The Way of Water” gets away with many cliches by sticking to a charming underdog family story, but across the film’s long runtime, many bumbling moments reveal the thin emotional threads which barely keep the film afloat. It substitutes sincerity for repetition: On multiple occasions Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) offers the platitude, “A father protects. It’s what gives him meaning.” While the words are often surrounded by gorgeous water backdrops or spoken aboard a flying Pandora creature, it’s hard not to picture Sully’s binary proclamation splashed atop a 2012 Pinterest tie-dye background in scrawling white cursive. 

While the water world is often front and center, the film still pulls the audience away from the tropical paradise, diving into Spider’s side story alongside his Avatar father’s manhunt for the Sully family. Spider’s storyline fails to hold up against the sheer tidal wave of the CGI spectacle that makes up the Sully family’s adventures. Paired with a strained, half-constipated performance from Champion, the film is palpably unbalanced, a predicament hard to ignore when faced with the three-hour runtime.

Much of the dialogue is overloaded with backstory and vague questions blatantly planted for sequels, leaving little room to get to know the now-large Sully family. Younger brother Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) is the exception to this monotony. Lo’ak’s boyish recklessness and mistakes, while often repetitive, quickly endear the Sully to audiences as a second son constantly trying to find himself in his father’s shadow. The siblings are the beating heart of the narrative, with “The Way of Water” only finding its footing once the charismatic crew is forced to adapt to living alongside the new water tribe. A dangerous and exhilarating playground for the young Sullys, watching the crew attempt to stay afloat is lovingly reminiscent of their father’s early adventures on Pandora. 

While the flashy CGI graphics stun, the blatantly Indigenous-inspired designs of the Pandoran tribes leaves the viewer with a bad taste. The franchise takes inspiration for many of its fantastical elements from very real cultures, using heavy racial dynamics that the film sidesteps with spectacle rather than addressing. In an increasingly racially conscious media world, it’s difficult to deny that the futuristic sci-fi behemoth might still be stuck in the past. 

Irrefutably packed with jaw-dropping CGI showmanship yet burdened by a bloated narrative, “The Way of Water” still makes for a successful science fiction escape. Go for the pageantry, stay for the Sully siblings, but don’t be surprised to leave with blue people fatigue.

Contact Addison Lee at 


DECEMBER 21, 2022